Grace that Transforms
The word “Grace” shows up over 100 times in our English Bibles (and somewhat more frequently in our Greek and Hebrew Bibles). In the Hebrew Old Testamant, this is largely translated from the words חָנַן (hanan) and in the Greek New Testament, from the word χάρις (charis). In each case, the emphasis that is being placed on the word is of an unearned favor or affection being extended into the life of an individual or to a group of individuals. It is a kindness given that is unmerited and it is designed to produce both goodwill and a sense of gratitude in the life of the recipient. Hebrew literature and commentary understands this idea of grace to be an outworking of God’s חֶסֶד (chesed) — his covenantal faithfulness to his chosen people, a notion consistent with the New Testament principle that his grace is an outworking of his ἀγάπη (agape) love toward his elect.
As protestants, typically the aspect of grace that we appeal to the most is that of it being entirely God’s free gift to us. We did nothing to earn it and there is nothing in us that would or could merit it. God simply elected to show it to a body of people he chose in Christ before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1:4). Grace begins with God and ends with God and God constitutes all of the in-betweens. If we want to break it down even further, along philosophical lines, God’s Decree of Election is the Formal Cause, Christ’s work of Redemption is the Efficient Cause, and the Glory of God is the Final Cause. Man is the vicarious beneficiary of God’s grace.
What we often do not focus much upon is the effect of grace upon those who receive it. When my son was a small boy, I decided to teach him a little bit about the nature of grace. So, one day, after doing something worthy of discipline (I no longer remember the specifics of his particular sin), I sat him down as usual, and told him what penalty he deserved (in our home, punishment at that age usually meant 1,2,or 3 spanks). But then I spent some time talking about grace and did not spank him (though he deserved it). At first, it seemed to make an impact on him and he was genuinely grateful not to be spanked. Yet, the next time he did something wrong, his immediate response was to cry out to me, “Grace, Daddy, I want grace!”
On one level, a lesson was learned. At the same time, I wonder how many professing Christians have that same mindset as my young son did and see grace more as license to sin than as an infinitely gracious gift that has been bestowed upon them. Paul the Apostle raises the rhetorical question in Romans 6:1 as to whether we should sin even more so that God’s grace will abound in us. His answer in the following verse is crystal clear: “May it never be said!” He goes on to say that if we have died to sin in Christ, how can we still intentionally continue living within it? In other words, the grace of God should change the way we think and live in this fallen world.
I have said above that if one does not have a high view of the wretched nature of sin, they will not have a high view of grace. And, if we do not have a high view of grace, we will not live a life of faith and thanksgiving — we will not exhibit gratitude in our lives. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 2 reminds us very clearly that if we are going to live and die in the comfort of faith’s assurance, we must understand our guilt, God’s grace, and how to live a life of gratitude. Remember, it is this grace, when really received, that produces our gratitude — or, to use the philosophical categories above, it is God’s grace that is the Efficient Cause of our Gratitude. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude; if you break one link, the others lose their meaning and purpose.